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City official: Smaller emergency shelter might have 100-150 beds

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

While the city of Albuquerque has scrapped a plan to build one large homeless shelter, officials on Thursday said the new multi-site approach could mean a series of facilities with at least 100 beds each.

In response to community feedback, the city walked back its 300-bed “Gateway Center” homeless shelter/resource hub proposal in favor of establishing smaller facilities throughout the community.

It is attempting to buy the first Gateway Center location, having recently made an offer for the former Lovelace hospital on Gibson Boulevard in Southeast Albuquerque for an undisclosed price.

In a media briefing Thursday, Mayor Tim Keller again did not give a specific answer when asked how many emergency shelter beds the city may include in the facility, calling the planning “fluid” since the city has not yet acquired the property. Officials say the site may have other uses beyond shelter beds, including behavioral health services and respite medical care.

“We’ll get very definitive about beds, redesign and the game plan, but until we can actually purchase it, we’re going one step at a time,” Keller said.

But Family and Community Services Director Carol Pierce offered some insight into what the city means when it refers to small shelters.

“We’re often talking 100 to 150 beds of emergency shelter that could be defined as a smaller shelter,” she said.

The size and scope of the shelter component is likely to be a source of contention at the Gibson site.

City Councilor Pat Davis, the area’s representative, has said he believes current zoning would restrict the property to 30 non-medical shelter beds and thus limit neighborhood impact.

The city planning department, however, says the property’s zoning does not impose such a bed cap.

The zoning does allow an overnight shelter as a “conditional use,” something the city could, and would, consider pursuing if necessary, a top Keller administration official has said. Such permits require a public hearing and are granted only if there are no significant adverse impacts to surrounding areas.

Davis said he wants Keller’s administration to study the area around the hospital – including how many people there are currently homeless – and do an “honest evaluation” of resources to determine how many could feasibly be helped there before seeking any conditional use approval.

“The capacity of a gateway center should depend on ability to serve people, not a desire to warehouse people out of sight,” Davis said in a message to the Journal.

An official citywide count of people who are homeless is slated for early 2021, but the city says it is currently providing emergency shelter to more people than ever before. In conjunction with Bernalillo County and other partners, the city on Thursday was sheltering 735 people across multiple properties.

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